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March of the Penguins

Emperor penguins are some of the most striking and charismatic animals on Earth, but a new study from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has found that a warming climate may render them extinct by the end of this century. The study, which was part of an international collaboration between scientists, published Nov. 7, 2019, in the journal Global Change Biology.

The fate of the penguins is largely tied to the fate of sea ice, which the animals use as a home base for breeding, feeding and molting, she notes. Emperor penguins tend to build their colonies on ice with extremely specific conditions—it must be locked into the shoreline of the Antarctic continent, but close enough to open seawater to give the birds access to food for themselves and their young. As climate warms, however, that sea ice will gradually disappear, robbing the birds of their habitat, food sources, and ability to raise their chicks.

Jenouvrier and her team conducted the study by combining two existing computer models. The first, a global climate model created by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), offered projections of where and when sea ice would form under different climate scenarios. The second, a model of the penguin population itself, calculated how colonies might react to changes in that ice habitat.

Learn more: https://www.whoi.edu/press-room/news-release/unless-warming-is-slowed-emperor-penguins-will-be-marching-towards-extinction/

Stephanie Jenouvrier, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Scientific study: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/gcb.14864

Video provided by Stephanie Jenouvrier and Bruno Jourdain

Video by Elise Hugus, UnderCurrent Productions

The research was funded by National Science Foundation OPP grant numbers #1643901 and #1744794